Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Saints TV Bingo

            If you watch the Saints on television long enough, patterns start to appear. Television announcers repeat the same storylines and use the same footage over and over again. Sometimes it’s fun. Mostly though, it’s just plain lazy and annoying. In honor of this, we’ve created a game of Saints TV Bingo for you to enjoy the next time the Saints are on TV. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Jungle Primary

            Thanks to its French, Spanish, and American heritage, Louisiana has some unique traditions. We’ve got gumbo and jambalaya. We’ve got Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest. We’ve got the Napoleonic Code and parishes instead of counties. And when it comes to politics, Louisiana couldn’t just be like any other state. No, we have our own system of electing local, state, and federal officials that is different from anywhere else in the United States. 

            Louisiana uses a jungle primary system for its elected officials. A jungle primary system is where all the candidates for office appear on the same ballot regardless of what party they belong to. Then on election day, if no candidate receives 50% of the vote, the top two candidates participate in a run-off election about a month later. Confused? Let’s take a historical example. 

            Below is a chart of all the votes from the jungle primary for the 2015 Governor's race. 

John Bel Edwards
David Vitter
Scott Angelle
Jay Dardenne
Cary Deaton
S.L. Simpson
Beryl Billiot
Jeremy Odom
Eric Orgeron

            So there were a total of nine candidates in the 2015 governor’s race with three Democratic candidates, three independents, and three Republicans. Democrat John Bel Edwards garnered the most votes, but did not receive more than 50%, sparking a run-off between Edwards and Republican David Vitter. In the run-off, Edwards defeated Vitter, 56.1% to 43.9%. 

            The jungle primary has some interesting consequences. If we look at the vote totals from the first round of voting by party, we see that Republican candidates accounted for 57.25% of the vote while the Democrats garnered only 41.62% of all ballots cast. Despite a clear majority of Louisiana voters preferring a Republican candidate, none was elected governor. In the runoff, the percentage of votes won by each party flipped, with the Democrat Edwards winning a clear majority. 

Louisiana’s system became state law in the 1970s at the behest of Democratic Governor Edwin Edwards. Edwards, a governor who would be beset by scandal and later serve time in prison, wanted to ward off a primary challenge so he pushed for this jungle primary system. By throwing all of the candidates into one pool, he diluted the threat of any one challenger defeating him. 

Former Governor Edwin Edwards

The jungle primary has system has its clear advantages and disadvantages. It allows voters to express a preference for a particular candidate rather than a particular political party. This is what happened in the Louisiana governor’s race. Many Republican voters wanted a Republican governor but did not want to support Vitter, the leading candidate. So they voted for Angelle or Dardenne instead. In the runoff, many of those same voters, however, did not want to vote for Vitter, so they switched to Edwards. If the state had a traditional primary system where one Democrat faced off against one Republican perhaps the result would have been different. Perhaps the Angelle and Dardenne would have combined forces to defeat Vitter or perhaps Vitter may have aligned himself with one of them to ward off the third? 

The run-off has serious disadvantages for federal elected officials. Congressmen and senators elected in run-off elections enter Congress behind their colleagues in terms of seniority. In Congress, positions on key committees are apportioned according to seniority—how long an official has been in elected office. So elected officials who win on election day in November get better positions than those elected in a run-off in December. Former Louisiana senator Mary Landrieu often complained about this as it cost her seniority in the Senate. This seniority can have a real impact on the state. Senators and congressmen use their committee assignments to look after the interest of their constituents and direct federal monies to their districts. 

As a result, the state is reportedly considering a switch back to the traditional primary system. Since the legislature does not meet again until April 2019, any change would affect the 2020 elections at the earliest. So for the 2019 governor’s race, incumbent John Bel Edwards will have to navigate a field of multiple candidates in order to win reelection. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Sean Payton vs. A Fire Alarm

The face of a man who fought a fire alarm and won 

            On Sunday, the New Orleans Saints destroyed the Cincinnati Bengals, 51-14. Quarterback Drew Brees completed 22 of 25 passes for 265 yards and 3 TDs. Mark Ingram ran 13 times for 104 yards, averaging a ridiculous 8 yards per carry. Alvin Kamara had over 100 yards rushing and receiving with two touchdowns. Wide receiver Michael Thomas caught two more TD passes. By the end of the game, Saints radio announcers Zach Strief and Deuce McAllister were openly rooting for the game to end as quickly as possible so McAllister could get out of the cold. The New Orleans defense intercepted two passes from Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. By halftime, the Saints had a 35-7 lead a 99.6% win probability. The game was an impressive performance by a New Orleans team with its sights clearly set on a division title and the playoffs. 

            But the Saints on-field destruction wasn’t the only big storyline coming out of the game. Before the game, head coach Sean Payton engaged in a little destruction of his own. His target wasn’t the Bengals defense, but rather a pesky fire alarm.

            Before the game started, a fire alarm sounded throughout the stadium. After about 15 minutes, Payton was fed up. It was clear that the team was not in danger nor was the stadium burning down. Worried that the alarm was hurting his team’s focus for the upcoming game, Payton took matters into his own hands, laying waste to the alarm situated in the middle of the Saints locker room. Take a look at the damage below.

            So we have a couple of questions. Did he damage it with his hands? Because that would be the story of the game. Did he use a hammer? What about one of those clunky Microsoft Surface tablets? How did his players react when their head coach destroyed a fire alarm? Did he just come out of his office, calmly destroy it and go back in? He did talk to anyone about whether this was a good idea? He did ask for the alarm to be turned off?

            In his post-game press conference, Payton claimed that he did not destroy the alarm, calling such claims “sensationalist.” Instead he simply explained that “I just needed the noise to stop.” Payton offered to pay for the cost of repairing the broken alarm. The Bengals issued a milquetoast response saying “We are aware of this situation and have been in touch with the authorities, but have nothing more on it at this time.” It’s not clear if anything will happen to Payton for his wanton destruction of lifesaving fire equipment. But there seems to be almost nothing on or off the field that can stop the Saints this season. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Saints Half-Season Check-In

Will he finally win MVP? 
          With the New Orleans Saints 45-35 victory over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, the Saints’ record is now 7-1 and they are halfway through their season. As a result, we thought it would be a good time to see how their season is going so far and what we can look forward to in the second half. 

            Let’s start with the positives. First with their 7-1 record, New Orleans sits atop the NFC South, a game up on the 6-2 Carolina Panthers. Thanks to their victory over the Rams, the Saints now hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Los Angeles. Currently the Rams and Saints sit atop on the NFC playoff standings. The playoffs may be a ways off, but the victory over the Rams could mean the difference between playing the NFC championship game in New Orleans as opposed to Los Angeles. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, the Saints are the fourth best team in the NFL behind only the Rams, Chiefs, and Patriots. They have a 95.9% chance to make the playoffs, a 69.6% chance to win their division, and a 11.8% chance to win the Super Bowl. In other words, the Saints are in a great position. 

            Once again, Drew Brees and Sean Payton have the New Orleans offense humming along. Somewhat surprisingly the Saints have the fewest drives on offense of any team in the NFL—some of that is due to the bye week, but that’s not all of it—but they are first in points per drive and third in yards per drive. They also lead the league in time of procession per drive. In other words, when they get the ball, they usually drive down the field and score points. They also do not turn the ball over. Drew Brees has thrown 18 touchdowns to only one interception. His INT% is second in the NFL behind only Aaron Rodgers. Michael Thomas has become a superstar wide receiver right before our eyes. In eight games this season, he has caught 70 of the 79 passes thrown to him for 880 yards. He’s averaging 111 yards per game and his 5 touchdowns this year have already matched his season total from 2017. Running back Alvin Kamara meanwhile has 917 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns in only 12 games. 

            The Saints special teams have also quietly been a key a contributor to the Saints hot start. Will Lutz has brought stability to the kicker position after years of New Orleans cycling through two or so mediocre kickers per year. The kickoff and punt teams have also been especially strong. The Saints lead the NFL in starting field position for their offensive drives. They also are fourth in starting field position for their opponents. Now they have also benefitted some from good luck. Football Outsiders charts a metric called Hidden Points that includes factors outside a team’s control like opposing field goals, kickoff and punt distances and have gained an estimated 14.8 points. 

            Despite the strong start, there are some warning signs on the horizon. First, the Carolina Panthers are 6-2 and only a game behind the Saints. The two teams have yet to play this season and those matchups will go a long way towards determining whether New Orleans will win the NFC South again. Second, according to Football Outsiders as of last week, the Saints have played the easiest schedule in the league so far. Their remaining schedule—which included the Rams—ranks as the 10th hardest going forward. Beating the Rams helps, but New Orleans has a lot of tough games ahead.

            Most importantly, the Saints defense has significantly regressed from last season. They rank 29th in Football Outsiders DVOA. They are 28th in opponent’s yards per drive and points per drive. They are 30th in points allowed per drive and red zone points allowed and 31st in 3 and Outs. While they’ve only faced 70 opponent drives, the second fewest in the league, the New Orleans defense is giving away points on nearly every drive. The Saints have had a strong run defense—2nd in DVOA—but their pass defense, the team’s strength last year, has been atrocious—29th in DVOA. In a league where passing numbers are up across the board and where the Saints have invested significant draft capital—Marshon Lattimore, Marcus Williams, and the newly acquired Eli Apple—the Saints had better fix their pass defense problems quickly. Because if the offense can’t keep up its pace, the defense will have a hard time holding their opponents down. 

            Halfway through the Saints season and things have gone as well as fans could have hoped. The question is, can the offense and special teams continue to carry New Orleans or will a tougher schedule and below average defense drag down their Super Bowl hopes? The next eight games will prove the answer.